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Civil War
Generals Sherman and Sheridan

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Michael Climo Riverside Civil War History Examiner


ay 3, 2012

During the War Between the States the Union forces were waging war on women and children on two separate fronts, raping, pillaging and murdering in the South as well as in the West. The most notorious of these thugs reported to General William Tecumseh Sherman, famous for his march to the sea. But long before that he had adopted a policy of “total war” against civilians.

In 1862 Sherman was having difficulty subduing Confederate sharpshooters who were harassing federal gunboats on the Mississippi River near Memphis. He then implemented the theory of “collective responsibility” to “justify” attacking innocent civilians in retaliation for such attacks. He had the entire town of Randolph, Tennessee burned to the ground. He also took civilian hostages and either traded them for federal prisoners of war or executed them.

Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi were also destroyed by Sherman’s troops even though there was no Confederate army there to oppose them. After his soldiers sacked the town, stealing anything of value they burned the rest. As Sherman biographer John Marzalek writes, his soldiers “entered residences, appropriating whatever appeared to be of value those articles which they could not carry they broke.” After the destruction of Meridian Sherman boasted “for five days, ten thousand of our men worked hard and with a will, in that work of destruction, with axes, sledges, crowbars, claw bars, and with fire, Meridian no longer exists.”

Sherman once wrote to his wife that his purpose was the “extermination, not of soldiers alone but of the people” of the South. Sherman often ordered his soldiers, many of whom were street criminals from Northern as well as European cities, to shoot civilians at random. And the thousands of letters and diaries that survived the war attest to the rape of both black and white women by Sherman’s men.

This war on citizens was not simply restrained to be applied against men and women but also children. General Sherman in a June 21, 1864 letter to Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Station wrote, “There is a class of people men, women and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order.” Stanton replied, “Your letter of the 21st of June has just reached me and meets my approval.” While the war on civilians started much earlier than 1864, the above is simply proof that the war on children was part of that scheme!

Sherman’s atrocities were not just relegated to his enemies though. For pragmatic reasons, Sherman knowingly bypassed Andersonville prison instead of liberating it. In addition, he was less than kind to the newly freed slaves that followed his troops through Georgia. Sherman’s contraband policy was to only allow those that could work to stay with the troops, as long as there were enough supplies and food to support their numbers. In one incident, Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis of the Union Army prevented a group of freed slaves from crossing Ebenezer creek near Savannah on a pontoon bridge with his troops. Several hundred of these freed slaves drowned while trying to swim across the creek, fearing that they would be left behind to be re-enslaved or killed by a group of nearby Confederates. Sherman not only condoned Davis’s actions, but also endorsed them.

Here are a few of Sherman’s other quotes for you to contemplate:
“The young bloods of the South; sons of planters, lawyers about towns, good billiard players and sportsmen, men who never did any work and never will. War suits them. They are splendid riders, first rate shots and utterly reckless. These men must all be killed or employed by us before we can hope for peace.”

“Look to the South and you who went with us through that land can best say if they have not been fearfully punished. Mourning is in every household, desolation written in broad characters across the whole face of their country, cities in ashes and fields laid waste, their commerce gone, their system of labor annihilated and destroyed. Ruin and poverty and distress everywhere, and now pestilence adding to the very cap sheaf of their stack of misery.”

“The government of the U.S. has any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war – to take their lives, their homes, their land, their everything…war is simply unrestrained by the Constitution…to the persistent secessionist, why, death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better.”

General Philip Sheridan is another celebrated “war hero” who also used similar tactics to those of Sherman in attacking defenseless civilians. After the Confederate army had finally evacuated the Shenandoah Valley in the autumn of 1864 Sheridan’s 35,000 infantry troops essentially burned the entire valley to the ground. As Sheridan described it in a Oct. 7, 1864 report to General Grant, “I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay and farming implements; over 70 mills filled with flour and wheat, and have driven in front of the Army over 4,000 head of stock and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep. Tomorrow I will continue the destruction down to Fisher’s Mill. When this is completed, the Valley from Winchester to Staunton, 92 miles, will have but little in it for man or beast”.

In letters home Sheridan’s troops described themselves as “barn burners” and “destroyers of homes.” One soldier wrote home that he had personally set 60 private homes on fire and opined that “it was a hard looking sight to see the women and children turned out of doors at this season of the year.” A Sergeant William T. Patterson wrote that “the whole country around is wrapped in flames, the heavens are aglow with the light thereof . . . such mourning, such lamentations, such crying and pleading for mercy by defenseless women I never saw or want to see again.”

As horrific as the burning of the Shenandoah Valley was, in his novel The Hard Hand of War historian Mark Grimsley concluded that it was actually “one of the more controlled acts of destruction during the war’s final year.” Sherman himself admitted after the war that he was taught at West Point that he could be hanged for the things he did. But that did not stop Lincoln from personally conveying to Sheridan “the thanks of the Nation.”

In Marion County, Missouri one of the most hideous of war crimes took place. After Missouri attempted to secede from the Union, the state was quickly overrun by Yankee troops. Anyone who expressed Southern sympathies was quickly persecuted by the “loyal” Missouri (Yankee-backed) government officials. In the little town of Palmyra, Missouri, the war was very personal and ugly. After a local Union supporter, Andrew Allsman came up missing it was presumed by the Federal authorities that he had been abducted. General John McNeil of the “loyal” Missouri troops at that time demanded the return of his informer; otherwise he would execute ten Southerners whom he held in jail.”

The men held in jail were not criminals they had been thrown into jail for expressing a pro-Southern point of view. It should be noted that the Yankees claimed that the Union informer had been captured by Confederate military forces. The Southern hostages held by the Yankees had no connection with said military forces. Let me emphasize the fact that these men were civilians.

When the Union informer did not return General McNeil ordered ten men to be chosen for execution. But the ten were not selected by a lottery because General McNeil had a more sinister design for the deaths of these men. He gave orders that only those of high social, military, educational, and professional background were to be chosen. Those selected ranged from nineteen to sixty years of age. Both pro-Southern and pro-Northern citizens made pleas on behalf of the innocent men. Those who thought they had some influence with the Yankee government and who had a sense of decency implored the military authorities not to commit this act. But the order had the highest backing from all levels of the Yankee government. At 1:00 P.M. on October 18, 1862, the ten men were loaded on wagons, seated on newly made coffins, and taken to the Palmyra fairgrounds where the hideous act was to be carried out.

On reaching the fairgrounds the men were placed in a row and seated on their coffins. A few feet away stood thirty United States soldiers. Behind the thirty soldiers were an equal number of reserve troops. At the command “ready, aim, fire,” the order was carried out. The only problem was that only three of the men were killed instantly. One was not even hit. The others were lying in pools of their own blood. Not to be outdone, the reserve troops were called into action. Walking among the wounded men, they took their time, and with their pistols shot each hostage until he stopped moaning.

This incident did not pass without some protest. Not only in the South, but also in London and even in the North decent people made loud protests about such a barbaric act. Twice in Lincoln’s Cabinet meetings the issue was brought up about how to put the best spin on this atrocity. But finally the incident was just ignored because the South had its hands full and could not pursue the matter. But what became of General McNeil? Surely the Yankees would censure this man for such acts. Not quite because shortly after the Palymra massacre, he was given a promotion to the rank of Brigadier General of United States Volunteers by Abe Lincoln.

“Had the Confederates somehow won, had their victory put them in position to bring their chief opponents before some sort of tribunal, they would have found themselves justified . . . in stringing up President Lincoln and the entire Union high command for violation of the laws of war, specifically for waging war against noncombatants.”
~ Lee Kennett, Marching through Georgia: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman, p. 286

It also must be noted that these same tactics used against Southern civilians by Brigadier General George Custer and Major Generals Philip H. Sheridan and William T. Sherman taught them fine art of extermination which they later used so effectively against Native Americans.

In war the victors always write the history and are never punished for war crimes no matter how heinous. Only the defeated suffer that fate. That is why very few Americans are aware of these unspeakable atrocities of war committed against civilians.

For a more in depth study of this topic get a copy of War Crimes Against Southern Civilians by Walter Brian Cisco. It is very graphic and sometimes disturbing to read but you will have a greater understanding of native Southern sympathies against “damn” Yankees.